“India is a sleeping giant for football” were the words of Thierry Weil, FIFA’s Director of Marketing Division during an interview by The Hindu in July 2016, when he was interviewed about 2017 Under 17 World Cup and local partners from India. This is how Football in India has been perceived.
Football is the second most famous sport in India after Cricket. India has now become fifth Asian country to host a FIFA World Cup, as the nation is hosting the 2017 Under 17 FIFA World Cup. However, the sport has never got the kind of support from the nation like Cricket has. The fanaticism for football is more often than not confined to giant clubs like Manchester United, Barcelona, and Real Madrid etc. Popularity of Indian football is all about prominent legends like Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri. When it comes to media, Indian football has slender support as it doesn’t help in generating desired TRP. Although, Indian Super League had received favourable attention from the media and audiences, it hardly helped to shine the light on the bright and propitious talent of our country that can represent India as a National Team in future. Moreover, it has always been about the criticism. The scenario becomes worse when the media never talks about the team until they fail to perform well. Being a Cricket crazy nation, India still has multitudes following football, but paradoxically there is a serious lack of support when it comes to supporting the National Team. Such is the plight of football in India.
There are tournaments for football in India like Durand Cup, Federation Cup and IFA Shield, but the kind of support and funding they get is far less than similar cricket tournaments.
In such a scenario, FIFA needs to come forward to support and promote the sport in India. FIFA should look forward to organize a mega league like Indian Premier League, and there are things FIFA should learn from Lalit Modi. The way IPL had emulated the concept of English Premier League was commendable. It had added the glamour element and was managed brilliantly. A similar mega league in Football should be organized by FIFA. It would also offer business to other industries like tourism and hotel, just like it did in the case of IPL.
Recently, with the emergence of Under 17 FIFA World Cup, there is an upsurge in terms of the interest taken by Indian Corporate about association with the sports. There is a clear understanding of the exposure it will provide the brands and there is a realization of the importance of India to host the tournament successfully. The decision by national supporters like Bank of Baroda,Hero and Coal India is visualized as the combination of commercial benefits with a sense of national pride. It is about supporting something historical, which would open the floodgates for the further development of football in India.FIFA chief commercial officer, Philippe Le Floc’h is looking to welcome Indian brands into the FIFA commercial affiliates soon. The All India Football Federation is equally helping FIFA during the event.
Javier Ceppi, LOC FIFA Tournament director had more to say about the commercial case and brand sponsorships and opportunities for football in India. He had reportedly said that the national supporters aren’t only associating with the particular event, like U-17 FIFA World Cup, but they are also looking forward to the development of the sport in India.FIFA and sponsors are envisioning an ambitious Mission Eleven Million, which happens to be a legacy programme for the FIFA U-17 world cup. It promises to reach out to eleven million school kids of the country with football in the run up to the tournament. The sponsors have seen the sincerity in FIFA’s approach and the vision of the programme. The mission would benefit Hero and Bank of Baroda by being a part in the Mission Eleven Million, as it has an enormous potential to promote football in the country, which is something they want to achieve as a brand.
Indian Super league 2017 is expected to play a major role in the process of development. There are a lot of changes in this edition of ISL. This is going to be the longest season yet. It comprises of 10 teams instead of 8, and the matches will be played over the course of 4 months. It will have 30 more matches than the previous seasons. This season will focus more on Indian players. With the maximum number of only 5 international players, the teams would have at least 6 players from India. Even though, the popularity of ISL is no close to that of IPL, it is going to be a great contributor towards the change.
FIFA’s ambitions about developing the sport in India are visionary and it should go on to promote football in India. This will help to improve and develop the infrastructure of the sport in the country. It will also prove to be a great opportunity for club administrators, scouts and other football stakeholders to visit India. It will expose them to the passion of football in India and reinvent future strategies regarding India’s involvement. Such initiatives will also bring business for other industries like hospitality and construction.
“Small steps towards change become an impetus to revolution.” With that, we can hope that FIFA’s ambitions and modifications in the current Indian Super League will change the scenario of football in India.